Everyone wants white teeth, right? Your teeth are often one of the very first things that people see when they look at you, and if you feel bad about your teeth, whether it's because they're stained, yellow or crooked, you may be more likely to hide your smile out of embarrassment.
But don't think that the discoloration is entirely your fault!
You'll likely find few people willing to give up their morning coffee or evening glass of red wine just to protect their teeth, and it's not exactly like most folks are lining up with excitement to go to their six-month dental check-up.
Regardless of how you ended up with teeth that are less than pearly white, you may think that the only answers for whitening your teeth are both expensive and damaging, but that's not the case at all. You can safely and affordably whiten your teeth, and sometimes you can do so without even making a trip to the store.
The Dangers of Teeth Whitening
Even though teeth whitening is one of the most in-demand dental services, that doesn't mean that teeth whitening is always safe. Just because "everyone is doing it," that doesn't necessarily mean that you should.
Improper teeth whitening techniques can lead to a range of greater dental issues, including teeth sensitivity, gum damage, increased stains later, enamel loss and more.
You might find that you run the risk of these dangers if you use particularly strong whitening strips or treatments you can purchase from the store (everyone's tolerance level is different). Still, you may also find that some natural, DIY teeth whitening methods pose a danger. Remember — just because something is "all-natural" doesn't make it safe.
Unsafe at-home teeth whitener options to avoid include:
- Any mixtures of lemon and baking soda (lemon can be highly corrosive).
- Any DIY treatment that includes strawberries, as strawberries are also corrosive.
- DIY treatments that include apple cider vinegar (again, corrosive).
- DIY treatments that use salt, which can actually scrape and damage the tooth surface.
- Activated charcoal.
That last one may surprise you, as activated charcoal is found in many trendy, "natural" kinds of toothpaste and is touted as the next big thing in dental care. However, charcoal comes with a fair amount of cons when it comes to your teeth. When used daily, charcoal toothpaste can wear down your enamel while also potentially staining your teeth further.
Depending on the type of teeth whitening, you'll see different dangers. Some teeth whitening solutions aim to actually change the color of your teeth through bleaching and other processes, while some solutions simply aim to scrape or remove existing stains from your teeth without changing the actual color of the tooth.
Safe Ways to Whiten Your Teeth
So how can you go about whitening your teeth without harming them?
Safe Teeth Whitening Products
For safer ways to whiten your teeth, look for American Dental Association-approved products at your local drugstore. These may include whitening strips, whitening rinses or whitening tubes of toothpaste. These products typically incorporate stain-fighting ingredients in low concentrations, so you can lighten your teeth a few shades without worrying about damage.
The downside to these products is just that — you're only going to get a few shades whiter, so if you have heavy staining, you might not see that much of a noticeable difference. Another downside is cost, as these products can be pricey.
However, if you're going to invest in store-bought teeth whitening products, you may want to go ahead and invest in other at-home dental care products as well.
While you may not see immediate whitening results, items like electric toothbrushes and water picks can increase tooth and gum health, leading to overall whiter teeth in the long run.
If you don't want to make a pricey investment in teeth whitening products for your oral health, though, at least consider purchasing a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Most affordable brands of toothpaste do, whether or not they tout teeth whitening as a benefit. Fluoride helps fight tooth decay and strengthen your teeth, leading to overall whiter, healthier teeth.
Natural and DIY Whitening Solutions
There are a few different natural teeth whitening methods and home remedies you may want to try, especially if you already have some of these ingredients in your pantry.
Baking soda is a popular option for gentle brushing.
While you may not want to use it every day, brushing with a baking soda and water paste can help you see some stain removal, similar to what you might get with a store-bought whitening strip or toothpaste.
If you have oil on hand, you can try oil pulling, a trendy process that removes surface stains and increases overall dental health. Plus, oil pulling is very safe.
All you need is coconut oil, sesame oil or olive oil. Simply swish a tablespoon of the oil around in your mouth for up to 20 minutes and then spit the used swishing oil out into your sink.
While high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can harm your teeth, low concentrations are safe to use.
Use hydrogen peroxide at a 1% concentration for the safest results and simply swish the hydrogen peroxide around in your mouth for a couple of minutes, then spit.
Kaolin clay is a popular alternative to activated charcoal.
Not as abrasive but still useful for removing stains, you can gently rub your teeth with kaolin clay, allowing it to mix with your saliva. After the saliva more or less dissolves it, rinse.
Safe Teeth Whitening Dental Procedures
While no one really wants to go to the dentist, if you keep up with your regular cleanings, you'll likely see a change in stains, even if you don't necessarily book any teeth whitening treatments.
That's because tartar that builds up on your teeth over time can carry its own stains.
In other words, the stains you may be seeing might just be the tartar, not the stains on your actual teeth. When you get your teeth cleaned, the tartar goes away, leaving behind white, clean teeth.
If you do want to book an additional, specific teeth whitening treatment with your dentist, you'll have a few options, including bleaching or having your dentist create a special, custom-fit whitening tray that you can take home and regularly use on your own.
For those who really want to go all out with their cosmetic dentistry, veneers are an option, but getting those movie star-ready teeth comes with a high cost — not only do you pay thousands of dollars per tooth, but veneers require filing down your real teeth to stubs.
Is Your Diet Staining Your Teeth?
Sometimes, if you try teeth whitening solution after teeth whitening solution and just don't see a difference, you may need to look at outside factors.
Your diet could be playing a role in how stained your teeth are, meaning that every time you eat or drink an offending item, you're just undoing all the work you did with your teeth whitening strips, DIY treatments and dental visits.
If you really want to cut out foods and drinks that may stain your teeth, you'll want to avoid:
- Citrus fruits
- Tomatoes and tomato products
- Wine (both red and white)
- Sodas (of all types)
- Balsamic vinegar
It's also a good idea to avoid consuming sugary foods (and brush your teeth soon after eating them) and add more calcium to your diet. This can protect your teeth from plaque build-up while also strengthening your enamel.
And, if you just can't give up your morning cup of coffee or that nightly glass of wine, be sure to brush right after, or at least give your mouth a quick rinse with some water, to get those staining properties out of your mouth, stat.
Are there any foods that actually help your teeth?
Yes! While many foods can stain your teeth, some foods can actually help your teeth by removing build-up and surface stains.
For example, fiber-rich and coarse vegetables require a lot of chewing, and that chewing leads to saliva production — both the fiber and the extra saliva help break down stains.
Similarly, dairy products also increase saliva production, and lactic acid removes stains as well.
Pineapple and papaya are natural sources of bromeliad, a cleaning compound that removes surface stains, so they're also good choices.
In the candy aisle, look for some teeth whitening gum — sugar-free, of course. It's not an ideal solution, but it is one that's shown to work.
Tips for Teeth Whitening
Whatever way you decide to whiten your teeth, whether you try some DIY remedies or go to your local dentist for professional treatment, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind.
Track your progress.
It's easy to get discouraged if you don't feel like you're making any headway with your teeth whitening quest. However, you may be seeing more results than you think. Track your teeth whitening progress by taking a photo of your teeth before you begin whitening; then, each month, take a photo with the same smile, same lighting and same location, so you can see how your teeth are improving month after month.
Be honest with yourself.
Are you really sticking to your teeth-whitening regimen? If you're flossing, using mouthwash, brushing with baking soda and oil pulling regularly, but still downing multiple cups of coffee, wine and soda per day, you may not see any results.
Be honest with the changes you're making and where you could improve if you really want to see fast results.
You can always cheat your way to a whiter smile.
Still not happy with your smile after trying a little of all the above? Cheat your way to a whiter smile by wearing red or pink lipstick with a blue undertone (think berry shades). Your teeth look instantly cleaner, and you didn't even need to brush.
If your teeth look more gray than yellow, try a more coppery shade. If you use a lip product with any glitter or sheen, make sure that glitter or sheen likewise trends silvery or coppery, depending on which hue you're going for. Some also recommend lip contouring, which requires a bit more effort in the morning, but that can result in a more defined smile and the illusion of shinier teeth.
Change up your eye makeup by reaching for cool tones and amping up your eye makeup overall to draw attention away from your teeth.
Another way to cheat? Try some bronzer or self-tanner. The darker your skin, the whiter and brighter your teeth will look. Additionally, go darker with your clothes, so your teeth aren't competing with your white tee.
Makeup "cheats" are especially valuable for those who are fair-skinned or who have blonde hair, as, by contrast, your teeth will look more yellow.
Whiter Teeth Are in Your Reach — No Damage Required
Don't think that whitening your teeth requires permanent damage to your smile or even permanent damage to your bank account. You can achieve a more attractive, whiter smile safely, all by following best dental care practices, changing some bad habits and making use of a few ingredients already in your pantry.
You might also be interested in: 9 Best Sugar Replacements To Try...And One To Avoid